Things are going really well. I’m feeling fully present in the moment, mindful of physical sensations, my thoughts, and my feelings. I am calm, and I feel a wonderful sense of focus. Then the bell sounds on my Insight Timer app, signaling the end of my time on the cushion, and the beginning of the real work.

It took me a while after beginning my meditation practice to realize that I couldn’t really compartmentalize my daily life from my practice. I still lose sight of this truth frequently. I had a pretty rough weekend last weekend, filled with a relapse of some bad mental habits that I had generally seen diminishing over the last year. I really let my monkey mind go wild for several days in a row. I have been dealing with the chaos of some fairly major life changes recently, and although I have been staying consistent with my seated meditation practice every day, I have let a lot of the supporting mindfulness activities that I’ve been practicing slip. The results were several days of wall-to-wall mental proliferation, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a couple of years. Let me tell you, it didn’t make for a very pleasant experience.

plastic monkeys
Photo freely given by Park Troopers on Unsplash

Although I was somewhat aware of what I was doing during my weekend dukkha-fest, at no point was I truly mindful. I watched my mind pinball around, hurtling from one anxiety to another. All the time I kept telling myself that I needed to be mindful, but never worked up the intention to actually practice mindfulness. It wasn’t until Monday morning that I woke up and realized, “you’ve been driving yourself crazy all weekend, and it’s time to stop.” Monday was still a little rough, but I consciously focused on being present throughout the day. I would catch the monkey starting to get a little rowdy, and I’d turn my attention to it, watch what it was doing and be mindful not to feed it. Several times I watched as my anxious thoughts arose, noting that “this is insecurity” or “this is anxiety”, than observe as they slowly played out their half-life and passed by.

I have had more times of struggling with my emotions and anxiety throughout the week, but I have also had some really nice moments of awareness. The important change for me has been to purposefully bring my practice off of the cushion again. Our time on the cushion is training to strengthen the muscles that we use in the real practice, which is our lives. Just sitting will not get you anywhere in the liberation game if you allow the work to stop there. It’s out in the world where we find the real opportunity to experience freedom from our suffering. All of our life is our practice.